The Incredible Shrinking Man

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Directed by Jack Arnold
Produced by Albert Zugsmith
Written by Richard Matheson
Screenplay by Richard Matheson
Richard Alan Simmons (uncredited)[1]
Based on The Shrinking Man
by Richard Matheson
Starring Grant Williams
Randy Stuart
April Kent
Paul Langton
Billy Curtis
Narrated by Grant Williams
Music by Uncredited:
Irving Getz
Hans J. Salter
Herman Stein
Cinematography Ellis W. Carter
Edited by Albrecht Joseph
Distributed by Universal-International
Release dates
  • February 22, 1957 (1957-02-22)


Running time
81 minutes
Language English
Budget $750,000[1]
Box office $1.43 million (US)[3]

The Incredible Shrinking Man is a 1957 American black-and-white science fiction film from Universal-International, produced by Albert Zugsmith, directed by Jack Arnold, that starred Grant Williams and Randy Stuart. The film was adapted for the screen by Richard Matheson from his novel The Shrinking Man. The opening credits music theme (uncredited) is by Irving Gertz, with a trumpet solo performed by Ray Anthony.

The film won the first Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation presented by Solacon, the 16th World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles. By happenstance, Richard Matheson was the Guest of Honor that year.[4] The film was named in 2009 to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant.[5]

Additionally, the cover variant to the third issue of IDW Comics' The Shrinking Man mini-series, adapted from Matheson's novel, includes "Incredible" in the comic's title as a direct reference to the film.


Scott Carey (Grant Williams) is a businessman who is on vacation with his wife Louise (Randy Stuart) on a boat off the California coast. When Louise goes below deck, a large, strange cloud on the horizon passes over the craft, leaving a reflective mist on Scott's bare skin. The couple are puzzled by the phenomenon, which disappears as quickly as it had shown up.

However, one morning six months later, Scott, who is 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) tall and 190 pounds (86 kg), notices that his shirt and slacks seem to be too big, but blames it on the laundry service. As this trend continues, he believes he is shrinking and sees his physician, Dr. Bramson (William Schallert), who reassures him that he is in perfect health and that "people just don't get shorter." Louise also dismisses his fears as silly, stating that he has simply been losing weight, but he continues to lose height and weight. His wedding ring falls off his finger. Louise becomes concerned when Scott points out that she no longer needs to stand on tiptoe to kiss him.

Finally, there is x-ray proof that Scott is getting smaller. His doctor refers him to the prominent laboratory, the California Medical Research Institute, and after nearly three weeks of sophisticated tests, Scott and his team of new doctors learn that the mist to which he was exposed was radioactive. This, combined with an accidental exposure to a large amount of common insecticide four months later, has set off a chain reaction that has rearranged Scott's molecular structure, causing his cells to shrink.

Scott continues to shrink proportionately. His story hits the headlines, and he becomes a national curiosity. He can no longer drive a car and has to give up his job working for his brother, Charlie (Paul Langton), who encourages him to make some money off his story by selling it to the national press. He begins keeping a journal, to be published as a record of his experiences. As things continue, Scott feels humiliated and expresses his shame by lashing out at Louise, who is reduced to tears of despair.

Then, it seems, an antidote is found for Scott's affliction: it arrests his shrinking when he is 36.5 in (93 cm) tall and weighs 52 pounds (24 kg). However, he is told that he will never return to his former size unless a cure is found. He tries to accept the situation, but in a moment of extreme self-loathing, he runs out of the house, his first time being outside since he sold his story.

At a neighborhood coffee shop, he meets and becomes friends with a female midget named Clarice (April Kent), who is slightly shorter than him. She is appearing in a carnival sideshow in town and persuades him that life is not all bad being their size. Inspired, he begins to work on his book again. Two weeks later, during one of Scott's conversations with his new small friend, he suddenly notices he has become shorter than her, meaning the antidote has stopped working. Exasperated, he runs back home, ending his brief friendship with Clarice.

After becoming small enough to fit inside a dollhouse, Scott becomes more tyrannical with Louise, simultaneously wanting courage to end what he calls his "wretched existence" and hoping that his doctors can save him. He is attacked by his own cat one day while Louise is away on an errand, and winds up accidentally trapped in the basement of his home. Returning to find a bloody scrap of Scott's clothing, Louise tearfully assumes the cat ate him, and his undignified death is announced to the world. Assuming she is now a widow, Louise prepares to move.

Meanwhile, Scott goes through the odyssey of navigating his basement, which for him at his current size is a cavernous, inhospitable world. Most of his time is spent battling a voracious spider, his own hunger, and the fear that he may eventually shrink down to nothing. When the water heater bursts, Charlie and Louise come down to investigate; by now, however, Scott is so small that they cannot hear his screams for help. Louise moves out of the house. Scott ultimately kills the spider with a straight pin and collapses in exhaustion. Awakening, he finds he is now so small he can escape the basement by walking through the squares of a window screen. Scott accepts his fate and is resigned to the adventure of seeing what awaits him in even smaller realms. He knows he will eventually shrink to atomic size; but, no matter how small he becomes, he concludes he will still matter in the universe because, to God, "there is no zero." This thought gives him comfort, and he no longer fears the future.


Production notes

The plot was something new for Universal-International, which had to approve a story that did not have a neatly resolved ending. Matheson's novel ends with the character shrinking to infinitesimal size. There is no last-minute rescue; the man keeps shrinking. In spite of these problems, Zugsmith managed to secure a $750,000 budget.[1] At the completion of production, studio executives wanted to change the ending to a happy one with doctors discovering a serum to reverse the shrinking process; director Arnold refused. With the successful Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and its sequels to his credit, he was able to convince the studio to agree to a preview. The test audience was startled at the film, but they liked it; the ending was not changed.[1]

Matheson regretted having his character shrink one seventh of an inch per day in the novel, according to an interview with Stephen King in King's book Danse Macabre. In the film he is said to be 52 pounds while about 3 feet tall, but that is unlikely given the square-cube law. Someone shrunk to half his previous height would weigh one-eighth their previous weight; 22 pounds would be more likely. While it is possible for some people to dwindle in height with age, and people are said to be slightly smaller as the day goes on, radical shrinking is not possible.

Most of the film's virtuosic special effects were supervised by Clifford Stine, head of the studio's special effects department. Jack Arnold solved the problem of simulating giant drops of falling water by use of a treadmill dropping hundreds of water-filled condoms.[1]

The film's "California Medical Research Institute" is the same fictional facility that also features prominently in Universal's The Monolith Monsters, released eight months later, which also starred Grant Williams.[6]


The film was very well received by critics, and the film became a multimillion-dollar hit.[1] It currently holds an 88% "fresh" rating on the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes.

Sequel and remakes

Matheson wrote a film treatment for a sequel titled Fantastic Little Girl (alternately titled The Fantastic Shrinking Girl), but the film was never produced. The story, in which Louise Carey follows her husband into a microscopic world, and after finding him, begins to grow in size together with him, then returning to the basement of their original home to battle a rat in the finale, was later published in 2006 by Gauntlet Press in a collection titled Unrealized Dreams.[7][8]

The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981), a comedy remake released by Universal Pictures, features Lily Tomlin as the wife of an advertising executive in a similar predicament, the result of being exposed to an experimental perfume.

In 2010 Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment talked of producing another comedy remake starring Eddie Murphy.[9] The film rights later lapsed, and in February 2013, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer announced the development of a new adaptation of The Shrinking Man with Matheson co-scripting with his son, Richard Jr.[10]

DVD release

The Incredible Shrinking Man has been released on both Region 1 and Region 2 DVDs by Universal Studios, as well as on Laserdisc.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Vieira, Mark A. (2003). Hollywood Horror: From Gothic to Cosmic. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. pp. 180–181. ISBN 0-8109-4535-5.
  3. "Top Grosses of 1957", Variety, 8 January 1958: 30
  4. awards.
  5. "25 new titles added to National Film Registry". Yahoo News. Yahoo. 2009-12-30. Archived from the original on July 10, 2012. Retrieved 2009-12-30.
  6. Warren 1982 Template:Page 113
  7. The Fantastic Shrinking Girl film treatment by Richard Matheson
  8. Reflections of a Storyteller: A Conversation with Richard Matheson William P. Simmons, Cemetery Dance magazine
  9. "Remake Watch: The Incredible Shrinking Man". SciFi Movie Page. Retrieved 2010-02-17.
  10. , but due to his death in June 2013, no one knows what will happen of his script, or the film itself. "MGM Rebooting 'Shrinking Man' With Author Richard Matheson and Son Writing." The Hollywood Reporter (February 13, 2013).


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